2017 wasn't as bleak as this year's major headlines have suggested. Yes, many Americans rightly felt discouraged and upset by political attacks on marginalized people — from undocumented immigrants to trans soldiers to Muslim individuals — and horrible acts of terror. But in the midst of this darkness, there was still light: Plenty of people rallied together and stood up for what they believe in. And many of those fights were led by young people.
Here are just seven ways young people — both famous and not — made a difference this year.
Teens energized our democracy by running for office.Nadya Okamoto, Mary-Pat Hector, Tahseen Chowdhury
While plenty of people felt disillusioned by the 2017 election, young people decided to view the difficult political climate as an opportunity to create change: a number decided to run for office themselves. Spelman College student Mary-Pat Hector ran for city council in Stonecrest, Georgia; Harvard student Nadya Okamoto ran for city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and 22-year-old Hashim Walters became the youngest candidate to run for New Orleans mayor — just to name a few young candidates who threw their hats into the ring this year.
And 2017 was just the start. A number of other young people have announced their campaigns for the 2018 midterm election — like Tahseen Chowdhury, who is running for New York State Senate, and the four teenagers who are running for to be the governor of Kansas.
Ariana Grande sent an empowering message of love in the wake of terror.Getty Images
On May 22, thousands of Ariana Grande fans — mostly young girls — crowded into England’s Manchester Arena to enjoy the star’s performance. Then, the unthinkable happened: A suicide bomber struck the concert, killing 22 people and injuring dozens more.
But instead of leaving this tragedy at that — instead of cancelling her tour and focusing on her own trauma and grief — Grande decided to help her fans find strength in community. Just a couple weeks later on June 4, Grande organized the One Love Manchester concert to honor the victims and families of the attack. The proceeds of the event, which also featured Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber, went to the British Red Cross Society’s Manchester emergency fund.
Not only did Grande offer love to her own fans after this traumatic incident, but she also sent a bigger message of resilience in the wake of terror. As Grande herself put it, “Music is something that everyone on Earth can share. Music is meant to heal us, to bring us together, to make us happy.”
Young people took to the streets to protect DACA.Getty Images
Since 2012, DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, has granted legal status to about 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. On September 5, the Trump administration officially moved to end the program, giving Congress a six-month deadline to handle the issue.
Dreamers, the young recipients of DACA, hardly took this blow sitting down. They immediately began to organize and protest across the country. College and high school students marched out of their classrooms in solidarity, and others protested in front of the White House.
“I’m still going to do the things I say I’m going to do, now even more knowing that there are all these people who are here to support,” Daniella, an 18-year-old Dreamer, told MTV News in September.
Taylor Swift sued a DJ to make a point about sexual assault.Getty Images
While Taylor Swift fans may remember 2017 as the year the star dropped her sixth album, Reputation, Swift actually accomplished far more. After spending almost a year out of the public eye, Swift re-emerged to go to trial against David Mueller, a man she alleged sexually assaulted her before a 2013 concert. The former radio DJ brought a suit against the pop star, arguing her allegations had led to his dismissal from Denver's KYGO.
Swift wasn’t just fighting for justice for herself, though. The successful star notably countersued Mueller for just $1 to send a message to other women: that they “can always say no.” This message was clear during the trial when Swift said she refused to be made to “feel like this is my fault.”
The judge agreed and Mueller's case was dropped on the grounds of "insufficient evidence” — a victory not only for Swift, but countless survivors across the world who felt their experiences had been validated, too.
Student athletes took a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick.Raianna Brown
In August of 2016, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before a football game. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said of his decision at the time. His act of protest sparked a wave of solidarity among other NFL players over the course of 2016, and only picked up speed this year after Kaepernick was not hired for the 2017 season.
In addition to the NFL players who have protested throughout this season and celebrities who have spoken out in support, plenty of young athletes across the country have shown that Kaepernick’s call for racial justice has been heard by kneeling before their own games. From 8-year-old football players to high school girls volleyball teams to students who were threatened with punishment for kneeling, the movement was clearly embraced by young people across the country.
“Kneeling wasn't about disrespecting the flag,” Georgia Tech dancer Raianna Brown, who took a knee before a football game last year, told MTV News in October. “It wasn't about saying America is horrible or anything like that. Kneeling isn’t about individual people, but systematic issues that have been going on in the United States essentially forever.”
Taking a knee, she added, is an act meant to “spark conversations,” because “that’s when real change happens.”
Chance the Rapper donated $1 million to Chicago public schoolsGetty Images
Chance the Rapper has long used his platform for good, from leading thousands of people to polls on Election Day, to raising over $100,000 to give coats to Chicago’s homeless, to launching an anti-violence campaign in his hometown. This year was no exception for Chance, who most notably donated $1 million to Chicago’s public schools in March.
“This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about posturing. This is about taking care of the kids,” Chance said in a press conference at the time, offering an important message for the nation and setting an example for other successful celebrities with similar resources and influence.
Young indigenous leaders are keeping up the resistance at Standing Rock.Andreanne Catt and Lauren TwoBraids Howland
In 2016, thousands of activists camped out at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota to speak out against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). They believed the pipeline would pose not only an environmental and economic threat to the nearby Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but would also cut through their sacred land, putting it at risk.
Young people were at the forefront of this movement. A group of teens ran across the country to raise awareness, and many others occupied the frontlines of the protest at Standing Rock, often putting themselves in the face of danger to do so.
Andreanne Catt and Lauren TwoBraids Howland were just two of those leaders, and they hardly gave up the fight this year. The two young women serve as youth organizers for Seeding Sovereignty, where they have continued to organize for indigenous justice and have travelled the country educating others about the reality of Standing Rock and their work at large.
As Catt told MTV News in November, “Standing Rock was just one fight, and it isn’t over. There are so many more fights out there.”